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May 29, 2004

The Daily Grind & Catching Up

I was poised to buy a new Macintosh to replace my old desktop computer, then the recent unpleasantness happened and I decided there's no way I can make myself do it, even if I could finally get to experience OS X on a G4 (which is where Apple probably knew it belonged all along... another story).

I explained it to the Firefly crowd last night: Knowing what everyone knows about my two bad Apples, if I were to go out and buy a third and something went wrong with it, you'd all be entitled to point and laugh and call me an idiot. All of the Firefly people are also Mac people, so they probably wouldn't point and laugh... they'd probably act like I had a sickly but adorable cat and secretly wonder what I was doing to my computers. But the point is that I'd feel deserving of the mockery, and I can think of at least one person who probably would at least secretly point and laugh, and another who's so full of Apple-hate that he'd tell me I had it coming for even touching a Mac to begin with.

Because I'm occasionally compulsive about writing letters of disgruntlement, I composed one to Apple expressing my disappointment with the fact that the two machines I've bought from it have been plagued with wide-spread engineering problems, and how it dissuaded me from being willing to gamble on Apple again, and how this was pretty disappointing to me. I hit the Apple web site in search of an address to put on the envelope. Couldn't find one. I looked a lot, too. After about fifteen minutes of trolling around looking for someone or something who looked likely to at least act accountable if a pissed off customer wrote or called, I gave up and settled for visiting the "tell us" part of the Switch campaign pages and pasting my letter into a form there, adding a polite p.s. asking for a human with an address to whom I could send a real letter. I'm betting "no response." Ed's pretty sure they probably get disgruntled switchers and near-switchers all the time, sitting up at all hours of the night composing lengthy and abusive screeds. My letter was not abusive. It was written to express the fact that, for as much as I'd like to give them my money and take a nice, new Mac home, I can't bring myself to do it anymore, because both times I've bought machines from them, the machines have been defective in a "we just didn't engineer this right" kind of way.

It's pretty disappointing, because I really, really like OS X. It feels good, there's good software for it, and it doesn't have that weird, brittle feeling Windows does whenever, for instance, the "bing-BONG!" of a new USB device being plugged in happens two or three times in rapid succession, as if the machine is saying "m-m-m-mouse!? y-y-y-you j-j-just p-p-p-plugged in a m-m-m-mouse!? Doh Boy!"

But over the years I've gotten pretty good with all my clones. I've assembled most of the machines in my house (two full-time servers, a testbed, and a desktop) myself, and the one I didn't build from the case up isn't recognizable as the thing I was sold. When something fails, I check my warranty folder to make sure I'm not still covered, drive down to Pacific Solutions, plop the broken part on the counter, ask for one like it at about the same price I bought at last time (which usually means something faster and better), I go home, crawl under the desk, screw the part in, and I'm golden again. Sometimes, when a motherboard goes, it's like getting a whole new computer. With the exception of hard drives, I almost anticipate something going wrong. You know... "Yay! The video card died! Unreal Tournament is about to totally kick ass!"

So confronted with entering into a potentially codependent and abusive relationship with Apple, which always involves sending the dead machine away and waiting around for five days for it to come home, I lost my nerve. Life in clone-world for those of us not willing to buy pre-assembled boxes is a little harrowing, but there's always a sense that if something goes wrong, the solution is either down at the computer store or sitting in the parts bin down in the basement.

Perhaps the funniest part of it is the way it's taken two years for me to pull out of my move toward being an actual Switcher. I bought the first iBook on the strength of word-of-mouth and consuming curiosity about OS X. I bought the second one to replace the first, thinking the product line had been around long enough to work the bugs out. I had it in my head that I'd be a real Switcher the day I found myself yanking the Windows/Linux machine under the desk and putting it in the closet as a permanent spare. But it isn't going anywhere and I just got a clone laptop from work that pretty much makes it stupid to dosey-do operating systems. So Al's going to be getting a lot of use out of the iBook until it dies or we win the lottery or we sell it.

I reserve the right to lay eyes on Leopoldo's new 1.5 GHz PowerBook one too many times and completely change my mind, at which point everyone can point and laugh over that.

And in other news:

Someone asked about the new work situation I alluded to. I don't like bringing work over here much for a lot of reasons. Up until going full-time again, I was freelancing and didn't really feel like broadcasting who I had contracts with or what kind of work I was doing because I've known writers who got burned for looking too busy, or busy with the wrong people. So a weblog with a lot of work mentions just seemed like a needless raising of the profile.

I also had a few contracts that stipulated some severe "never tell anyone you did work for us" clauses, and I didn't feel like testing the waters of common sense on them. Sure, you can ask the person who handed you the contract what that clause means, but asking anyone what something that clearly means one thing in English what it might mean in lawyer is how people get their hearts broken over contracts all the time. Seems safer to assume that it always means what it obviously means when you say the words out loud, and probably something less obvious, too. So that left a whole area of potentially fruitful work-blogging untouchable, because the burden of being elliptical was too much and I take even seemingly random and weird work confidences seriously.

But those work conditions don't apply anymore. It didn't take us long, once Ben had been born and Al was faced with being back at work, to realize that the ideal situation would involve me not stitching together gigs. It's kind of empowering to go out and get freelance work and put food on the table that way, but it's also nerve-wracking. People who can do it for years and years and succeed at it impress me. It was cool while it was just Al and me, but we've got Ben now and there's a certain "gain security" switch that gets flipped.

I'm still not likely to do much workblogging now, though. The product pretty much speaks for itself, and as much as I think there's some interesting stuff going on in the subjects I deal with, they're not going to be something I need to blog about much.

And that brings me to what I'm doing, just to be social and get it out of the way, which is editing a couple of sites for the company I used to work for before I went back to school in late 2002, and writing a weekly column for another. One site is called Crossnodes, and it deals with networking somewhere below a typical CIO's level of interest and somewhere above an end user's. I've got several regular freelancers to work with that I worked with a lot the last time I was editing, so it was pretty cool to take the site back and learn they were all still around. On top of the editing, I've got a daily news brief/editor's note to write up. That's more of a challenge because it's a relatively tight deadline with a limited pool of information from the previous 18 hours, but it's fun. I get to have an opinion.

The other site I edit is called Instant Messaging Planet, and it concerns itself with instant messaging from the ever-popular enterprise perspective. I'm on record with a low opinion of the state of IM, so no keeping work out of blogging on that score.

Finally, my weekly big column is the Enterprise Unix Roundup, newly given its own section on the page at ServerWatch. To the extent any column about enterprise Unix can be light and analytical, that's how I try to keep it. It's a good fit for me, because my recent background has been all about Linux. I've got quite a few social opinions about Linux, Free Software, and a few of their associated prophets wandering the landscape, but I don't get paid to write about them except for the occasional side-swipe. I don't care to mention them too often here, either.

Posted by mph at May 29, 2004 12:30 AM


Michael - I hope you know I would openly, honestly, and with a deep-seated joy point and make fun of you if your third mac blew up. I would also drive with you down to Frys to get you set up again.

Now, off to view my INTC Ticker...

Posted by: Michael Burton at June 1, 2004 09:42 AM